Agriculture as it exists today developed over 11,000 years of rather remarkable climate stability. It has evolved to maximize production within that climate system. Now, suddenly, the climate is changing. With each passing year, the agricultural system is becoming more out of sync with the climate system.
The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food.
Global demand for soybeans has soared in recent decades, with China leading the race. Nearly 60 percent of all soybeans entering international trade today go to China, making it far and away the world's largest importer.
Between 2007 and 2011, carbon emissions from coal use in the United States dropped 10 percent. During the same period, emissions from oil use dropped 11 percent.
People do not normally leave their homes, their families, and their communities unless they have no other option. Yet as environmental stresses mount, we can expect to see a growing number of environmental refugees. Rising seas and increasingly devastating storms grab headlines, but expanding deserts, falling water tables, and toxic waste and radiation are also forcing people from their homes.
Many countries are facing dangerous water shortages. As world demand for food has soared, millions of farmers have drilled too many irrigation wells in efforts to expand their harvests. As a result, water tables are falling and wells are going dry in some 20 countries containing half the world's people.
Heat waves clearly can destroy crop harvests. The world saw high heat decimate Russian wheat in 2010. Crop ecologists have found that each one-degree Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum can reduce grain harvests by 10 percent. But the indirect effects of higher temperatures on our food supply are no less serious.
During the years when governments and the media were focused on preparations for the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations, a powerful climate movement was emerging in the United States: the movement opposing the construction of new coal-fired power plants.
After the earth was created, soil formed slowly over geological time from the weathering of rocks. It began to support early plant life, which protected and enriched it until it became the topsoil that sustains the diversity of plants and animals we know today. Now the world's ever-growing herds of cattle, sheep, and goats are converting vast stretches of grassland to desert.
One key component of the Plan B climate stabilisation strategy is solar energy. Solar is even more ubiquitous than wind energy and can be harnessed with both solar photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal collectors.
When it comes to population growth, the United Nations has three primary projections. The medium projection, the one most commonly used, has world population reaching 9.2 billion by 2050. The high one reaches 10.5 billion. The low projection, which assumes that the world will quickly move below replacement-level fertility, has population peaking at eight billion in 2042 and then declining.
Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the Middle East at the start of 2011 have reminded the world just how politically fragile some countries are. But the focus of international politics has been shifting for some time now.
The heat in the upper six miles of the earth's crust contains 50,000 times as much energy as found in all the world's oil and gas reserves combined. Despite this abundance, only 10,700 megawatts of geothermal electricity generating capacity have been harnessed worldwide.
The bicycle has many attractions as a form of personal transportation. It alleviates congestion, lowers air pollution, reduces obesity, increases physical fitness, does not emit climate-disrupting carbon dioxide, and is priced within the reach of the billions of people who cannot afford a car.
With water shortages constraining food production growth, the world needs an effort to raise water productivity similar to the one that nearly tripled land productivity over the last half-century.